What a picture my friend Jaime from J-Me Photography provided this week! Our system works like this: when I have a topic for the week’s post, I shoot Jaime an email with something like, “It looks like the topic this week could be “the other”. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!” She doesn’t get more than that and my only hope is that I receive the picture at some point before Friday. Usually the picture is different than what I expected, but always it addresses the topic. It offers Jaime’s unique interpretation on a topic in picture form; I add my own take on the subject in written form. (I hope my readers take the time to examine the photo in order to discover both.)
What’s going on in this week’s picture? Who exactly are the girls looking at? Are they looking down not only physically, but also mentally thinking, “Oh no, here she comes!” Or perhaps they’re looking down with excitement, anxious for the last girlfriend in their threesome to join them. By not allowing us to see what’s going on in the bottom of the photo, Jaime increases the suspense. We can come to our own conclusions about who “the other” might be.
Last weekend my family and I attended the German Mennonite Conference with the, in my opinion, unfortunate theme: “Das Eigene lieben – Den Anderen achten” (Loving Your Own – Respecting the Other). On paper it’s fine, but in conversation it’s almost impossible to get right. And I’ve heard several comments about the grammatical side of it, although I haven’t discovered the difficulties there yet. I wondered how they would manage to fill this boring, blah sounding theme with life. But considering I was more excited about seeing far-away friends than anything else, I wasn’t too concerned.
They (all the individuals who prepared devotions, bible studies and workshops) succeeded in making me (and hopefully other conference goers) question what exactly “loving my own” means, how embracing it can provide a springboard to better loving “the other”, and of course, who that “other” might be. We talked about Daniel 1. Daniel and his Israelite buddies were chosen to be trained for the Babylonian king’s service. This was a king who forced the Israelite people into exile and now expected these four young men to learn the language and literature of the Babylonians. As if being forced to serve in a foreign country was not enough, the young men were given new names, a constant reminder of what they had unwillingly given up.
But still they remained faithful to their God, believing He would be faithful to them. They were able to compromise with the chief official when it came to their diet. Daniel wanted to refrain from eating the king’s food and drink (what a buffet that must have been!) and suggested they, he along with his friends, try a diet of just vegetables and water for ten days. When they looked and performed better than the other young men, they were allowed to continue their diet until the end of their training, at which point no others were found equal in wisdom and knowledge.
Daniel wasn’t just ahead of his times in terms of fad diets. By refusing the king’s food and drink, he set himself apart. Daily he was reminded of the God he served, even when radically removed from his people and traditions. He found a way to “love his own”, which enabled him to be strong in his faith.
I also attended a bible study on 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23. Paul writes in these verses about being free, yet being a slave. He writes he becomes all things to all people in order to reach out to them. Huh? These differences seem irreconcilable, an impossible feat. And is Paul just making lazy compromises in order to keep the peace, acting like a Jew when necessary and then like a Gentile when it fits?
Certainly there is tension in this text and throughout the entire Bible. But I have found this tension only reflects the disparity in real life as I attempt to live out my beliefs in a world that has other priorities. I wonder if Paul felt the same. Here he was trying to meet these people where they were, desiring a reconciled fellowship between Jewish believers and Gentiles when everyone else is consumed with the old rules and obeying tradition. Different priorities.
The bible study leaders suggested normally we meet such differences on a pendulum of individualism and dominance. Either we say “anything goes” without delving into the question of motivation or we reign down new rules of how “true believers” should act. But Paul offers a third possibility – meeting each other in Agape-love (unconditional love stemming from God’s love). I think most have heard this term before and I can see most believers nodding, “Of course, Agape-love. As Christians we love.”
But do we?
This kind of love means putting other’s needs before our own, even allowing the weak to have the upper hand sometimes. It means to waiver rights and privileges. In means loving our own and finding freedom in it, which allows us to turn to “the other” in love. If there’s anything opposite of “cool” these days, this must be it.
When we look over our chair like the girls in the picture, who do we expect to meet? And how are ready to greet them? Have we learned to love what is our own enough that we may be secure in it, preparing us to welcome the “others”? Are we willing to ask questions about them and “their own”, in order to understand them better without fearing the loss of what is ours?
May this weekend and the coming week be one of freedom for you and love for the other.